Revising- Breakout Lesson

How do you get students excited about revising sentences?  You make them compete to “breakout” of the classroom!

As students entered the classroom, they were placed into groups of 4.  Each group was handed 4 questions that required them to correctly revise sentences.Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 11.50.32 AM.png

Each question had 4 envelopes: 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, 2A, 2B…..etc.  Once students discussed which answer was correct, they would grab the corresponding envelope which contained a shape with a letter on it.Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 11.50.44 AM.png

After students had four letters, they had to unscramble to make a word: SCAN                         This was their clue to get an iPad and SCAN a QR code found hanging around the room.

Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 11.50.54 AM.pngScreen Shot 2017-02-21 at 11.51.12 AM.pngThe QR code gave students instruction to pretend they are a soldier in the Civil War and write a letter to someone.  The letter had to include dialogue, 2 proper nouns circled, and 1 prepositional phrase underlined.  Once finished, the students brought the letter to me for their next clue.Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 11.51.22 AM.png

I gave students a key as their next clue.  They had to search for a lock somewhere in the room.  The lock was attached to a large envelope.Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 11.51.30 AM.png

Inside the envelope was their PRIZE!!!

They had so much fun revising sentences, writing letters (which also went with our social studies lesson last week), and working together!!!  After students “broke out” of the classroom, we went outside for recess.


Writing with a Twist!

I teach 4th grade writing.  Editing and revising are a BIG part of our class.  I’ve noticed that my students do not always enjoy this part of writing, so I wanted to find a way to make it engaging and relevant for them.  I decided to set up a weekly writing camp with the help of some of my fabulous coworkers.  Here are the different stations the students went to for our 1st writing camp:

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Dialogue: In this station the students watched a short clip from “Despicable Me” (yes it was the scene with the fart gun).  We discussed what dialogue they heard in the movie and reviewed what we learned about using quotation marks with dialogue.  Students then wrote a small paragraph describing the movie scene using dialogue throughout it.


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Combining Sentences: Students rolled dice that had sentences on them.  They had to take each sentence and combine them using a conjunction.  We discussed why certain conjunctions did not make sense.  One side of the die was a WILD and students were able to create their own sentence if it landed on this!

Screen Shot 2017-01-19 at 1.01.39 PM.pngScreen Shot 2017-01-19 at 1.01.48 PM.pngTopic Sentences:  This was probably my favorite station!!!  I went around and recorded several teachers talking about a topic of interest to them.  I made sure they left off a topic sentence when I recorded them.  Students were able to scan a QR code to view the video.  They then found the envelope with the teacher’s name on it and pulled out a typed copy of what the teacher said.  They had to discuss what the paragraph was about and write a topic sentence for it.

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Complete vs Incomplete Sentences:  Students read the sentence/fragment that popped up on the screen.  If it was a complete sentence the students had to act it out.  If it was an incomplete sentence the students did the mannequin challenge (They were all over that).  Students had to then explain if the fragment was missing a subject or predicate and figure out a way to turn it into a complete sentence.

I would say the writing camp was a huge success! The kids had so much fun and asked if we could do it everyday.  Another idea for the dialogue station could be to have the students Skype or use Google Hangout to talk with students from another class/school.  They could then write a paragraph about their conversation using dialogue.

Let me know if you have any great ideas for me to add to my next Writing Camp!!!

Authentic Audience

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Her palms are sweating and she can feel her heart beating in her chest.  It’s getting closer to time…only a few seconds remain until she takes those few giant steps onto the big stage.  She can feel the rush of excitement as the audience starts cheering.  She holds up the microphone and the words to her number 1 hit begin to spill from her mouth.  There’s nothing like the thrill of being on stage!

He is pacing back and forth in front of the mailbox anxiously awaiting the mailman.  What is taking so long?!?  Finally, the mail arrives and his eyes grow big as he sees the large brown envelope transfer from the mailman’s hands into his own.  The packet is thick.  Could this mean he is accepted?  He rips open the envelope and hurriedly scans the page until his eyes see: Congratulations!  You have been accepted into our university.  His feet took off, the door slammed open, and he quickly found his parents.  He waited to scream with excitement until he could share his good news with them.

How would each of these stories be different if the singer took the stage in an empty auditorium or the young man ran inside only to find the house empty?

We, yes all of us, thrive on having someone to talk to, share our good news with, and feel a sense of accomplishment when our hard work is valued by someone besides ourselves.  Students are no different.  They want an authentic audience to share their work with as well.  Recently I asked my students who would read their writing once it was turned in.  Their response, “You, Mrs. Witherspoon.”  I asked them who would read their writing if I posted it on YouTube or an online blog.  “The WHOLE WORLD!” was the reply that I got.  Since this conversation my students have been able to create a video to show their learning that would be posted on our class youtube channel and each student created a blog.  All of the sudden they put more effort into their work and didn’t mind editing when it was needed because, well, no-one wants the whole world to see your mistakes.

Students need an authentic audience just as badly, maybe more so, than adults do.  Our job as teachers is to give them that audience.Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 8.27.14 PM.png

On this note, some of my students wrote their first blog today.  I am hoping to use this platform to improve their writing by giving it a sense of purpose.  Many of them are still struggling with complete sentences, capitalization, etc.  My goal is to get them interested in learning how to edit and revise by having them take ownership of their work.  Today was a starting point and I know they will get better, try harder, and write more.  They would love it if you would take them time to read what they wrote and leave a brief comment. (This is the url you get when you let 4th graders choose.)

Don’t Forget Why You’re Here…

Teachers have many day-to-day responsibilities and sometimes our real purpose can get lost in paperwork, meetings, grades, discipline, and (wait for it…) Test Scores.  I KNOW that the child is more than a grade or a score, but boy can it become difficult not to get swept up in the craziness that is STAAR.

I began to wonder why I was becoming so stressed recently after a long day of teaching.  Was it because the students weren’t listening, were my lessons engaging enough, why are the scores not reflecting what I have taught, blah blah blah.  I felt like I had hit a wall and I wasn’t strong enough to knock it down.  I spend a lot of time thinking of ways to empower the students, make learning fun, have students think critically, but it still didn’t seem like enough.

On the way to school this morning it hit me in the form of a song by Sidewalk Prophets:Screen Shot 2017-01-10 at 8.48.32 AM.png

The line “But don’t forget why you’re here,” is what knocked down that wall for me.  I am here to show God’s love to others.  As a teacher, I am here to show God’s love to my students and then (yes the relationship comes first) teach them.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying.  We still need to plan engaging lessons, find ways to empower students to take ownership of their learning, reflect on what is and is not working, and so on.  We just need to take the worry out of our day, LOVE the kids, and just keep going.   WE’VE GOT THIS!!!

Fear of Failure

I recently had the privilege of listening to George Couros speak and I was encouraged to start a blog for my personal reflections.  I have considered blogging for some time now, but I’ve always had a reason (excuse) to not begin.  Well….here I am, ready to begin my first blog post because the following reasons outweigh any of my excuses:

  • Personal reflection leads to growth
  • Students are worth it
  • Overcome fear of failure

I started thinking–really thinking– about why teachers are afraid to be innovative with lessons in the classroom and I think it boils down to fear of failure.  The thought in the back of many minds is: Doing what has always been done may not be the best method, but it isn’t a complete failure.  If I try something new, it may not work.

I then started thinking about what we tell students all the time when they are afraid of failure.  Something along the lines of:

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We need to take our own advice!! I recently planned a lesson where students where able to decide what topic they were interested in, research it, and create an iMovie to teach the class what they learned.  Everything was going great!  The excitement level was up, they were learning, taking notes, videos were being created and edited……and then…….

We watched the videos.

The students created funny, entertaining videos with MINIMAL information about what they were supposed to teach the class.  My first feeling was one of failure and, “Well, I know not to do this lesson again.”  However, after some reflection I realized failure is the first step to creating something great.  I had a discussion with the class and the next time students were asked to create a video over their learning I witnessed some truly creative, informative projects come together!

When we try something innovative with our class with the best of intentions sometimes it will be a success story, but more often we will see many mistakes (failures) because it was new.  We can learn from these mistakes and persevere.  This is how we will reach true greatness!

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